Imagine, if you will, a winding trail snaking its way up the side of a chaparral laden canyon, the Pacific ocean off in the distance alongside the setting sun on one side and the iconic Hollywood sign hanging high above the trail on the other, the sound of horses echoing in the otherwise still surroundings.
Now, add to that picture a grumbling group of reluctant corporate execs, high upon horseback, bandanas tied to cover their mouths and noses to minimize the amount of trail dust they would invariably chew on for the next two hours, and the odd mix of terror and disbelief painted on their faces as their horses strode nose to tail up the edge of the steep canyon.
Ahhh, group bonding. And, in the most unexpected of ways, it was bonding at its finest.
Pretty much everyone hated this choice of activity. It was hot. It was ridiculously dusty. It was on horseback.
Yet, for years after this sunset ride, teammates spoke of the night they rode together upon horses with names like Raw, Scrappy, and Cane. They talked about the word games they played, taking turns guessing answers up and down the line of horses, and they nervously talked about catching the glint of coyote eyes perched on the rocks as they quickly rode rode past.
It was a night when everyone from assistants to senior executives all surrendered control of their destinies to the attitudes and whims of a four legged beast. Typical cliques of co-workers were temporarily disbanded by their inability to maneuver their horses into a desired spot. Instead, position in the line was determined by the horses themselves and teammates who rarely spent time together chatted side by side.
Otherwise confident men and women sat ramrod straight, trying desperately not to spook their horses, while a few hooligans galloped up and down the line with their equine expertise, seemingly mocking the city slickers. In the midst of it all, belly laughs would ring out signaling how ridiculous someone looked as a horse bucked, bolted, and generally showed everyone who was boss.
Conversation about the sunset ride filled the halls of the office the next day with complaints of sore posteriors, dirt filled nostrils, and tales of survival in the wilds of the Hollywood Hills. The experience also grew as perspectives from those in the front of the line mingled with the varying points of view of those in the middle of the pack and those who took up the rear.
The ride was perfect. Why? Because it reinforced the team’s organizational culture as if it had been tailor made to do so.
- It required adaptability.
- It required spirit.
- It required trust.
- It required you to go to the edge even when you were terrified.
- It required you to be accepting when the situation required you to surrender your choice to that of another.
- It required you to eat a little dirt and still keep going.
- It required ridiculousness and the ability to laugh at it.
- It required moving seamlessly from one position in the line to another.
- It required multiple perspectives and the ability to add the view from your unique vantage point to that of the whole to create a bigger picture.
- It required the ability to embrace and actively participate in something you’d rather pass on.
- It required you to play a few games along the way.
Notice I said it “required.” I didn’t say it ” offered” or “provided” or some other namby pamby verb. No, it required all of those things.
Cultures that are strong enough to produce results must require.
As a leader, everything you do needs to reinforce those cultural requirements if you want to sustain it and leverage it for results. You can’t talk about it. You have to live it. When you do, it becomes second nature. Even on a horse named “Raw.”
What can you do to live the culture?